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Another trolley system ghost can still can be seen in Avondale. A bumpy but interesting ride may be taken on Aberdeen Street, an area of charming houses, many of the bungalow style. Along a four block span between Plaza Place and St. Johns Avenue, bricks run down the middle of Aberdeen where trolley tracks once lay. In fact, the path of the old rails can be discerned in the pattern of the bricks. Before World War I, the "end of the line" for the trolleys was on Aberdeen. Streetcars would head back into town from here. Actually, the vehicles didn't use a loop or a roundtable to turn around on. Instead, the seats on each streetcar were flipped in reverse, and the driver would remove the steering mechanism and remount it at the other end of the vehicle. Later, the line was extended to Ortega Island. The track turned west on Plaza Place, which runs into Hendricks Street. Hendricks is relatively wide in the vicinity of Avondale's Boone Park, and the reason may have been so that it could once accommodate the rails that lay in it. The trolley companies often used bricks between and around streetcar rails that were in streets. When the track had to be repaired, the bricks could be removed and later replaced. This info came from longtime Jax resident Jack McGiffin in his book It Ain't Like It Was in the Good Old Days... No, and It Never Was. An interesting memory of the streetcar line to Ortega was obtained from another long-time Jacksonville resident. When she was a young girl during the early 1930s, her mother used to put her & her sisters on the streetcar for a day's outing. Holding a nickel each, the children enjoyed a ride from their North Jacksonville neighborhood. Their money would be spent for ice cream when they finally reached Ortega. Then they would head back home on the trolley, taking in the sights along the way.

Streetcars

Trolley tracks ran down the middle of Main Street, stretching from downtown into Springfield until the 1930s. This Main Street postcard, showing a buggy and streetcar, dates from about 1907. Mischievous boys used to soap the tracks in the vicinity of 8th and Main. These Halloween hijinks caused trolley cars to slip & slide when trying to brake, and their wheels to spin futilely while starting back up. This interesting fact comes from the marvelous video “Yesterdays: Looking Back at Jacksonville.”

Little kids riding alone on streetcars? Also in the “Yesterdays” video, a senior citizen remembered how townsfolk seemed relatively unconcerned about serious crime. During the early 1900s, her parents thought nothing of placing her on a streetcar by herself, even though she was about six years old. The tot would travel downtown to Cohen Brothers Department Store, located in the St. James Building, today’s City Hall. She purchased sewing supplies and then boarded the trolley for the trip back home. Please see below for more!

GETTING THERE FROM HERE — Forty minutes to Ortega Island, and thirty to the Trout River on the Northside: This is how long it took some of Jacksonville’s streetcars to run from the downtown area in 1931, according to that year’s Comprehensive City Plan. Other travel times from downtown included ten minutes to Springfield and twenty-five to the vicinity of today’s FCCJ Kent Campus on the Westside. Is the present JTA bus schedule very much faster, especially considering any transfers from vehicle to vehicle?

The streetcar system did leave a lot to be desired, however, in the opinion of the City Plan from 1931. The document stated that the local residents most affected were African Americans, who relied on trolleys more than white inhabitants did. In the Plan’s words, “As the town grew, its colored areas grew likewise, adjacent to the white areas. As a result, the several separate and distinct colored areas came into being. But now with the advent of business and industry into some of those old areas, the residents there are being forced father and farther from their places of labor to the point in some instances that domestics are required to travel on street cars an hour or more before reaching their destinations… And as the city increases in population and area, this situation will become even more acute… (A)t this time, a domestic residing in the neighborhood of Davis and Eighth Street will consume 40-45 minutes in continuous riding time in going from her home to the site of her day’s work in Avondale, regardless and irrespective of waits and transfers! This state of affairs is not only unfair to the negro element but likewise unfair to those dependent upon them for domestic service. This condition is due to the routings of the transit system with its bottle neck at Broad and Bay and the obsolete system of looping.”

Within a few years of the report, however, the city’s streetcars would lose their battle with buses. Springfield, for example, had its trolley cars replaced by these competitors in June 1934. According to a Jacksonville Journal article from July 6, 1934, the last remaining streetcar lines in the city operated in the areas of La Villa, South Jacksonville, Kings Road, Edison-Fairfield (the Eastside), and Florida Avenue (today’s A. Philip Randolph Boulevard on the Eastside). And in December 1936, Jax streetcars would make their final runs.

~written by Glenn Emery

 

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